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Queen of layer cakes

Nostalgia over childhood desserts got me making my own creamy jam-filled Victoria Sandwich

There was a time when the faint ripple of raspberry in a small cup of snow-white vanilla ice cream thrilled me no end.

Getting the lone cherry in a can of fruit cocktail had the same effect and I would lord it over my sister.

We fought over Eskimo Bars, Brrr Blob ice cream and balls of shaved iced drizzled with syrup in lurid hues not found in nature.

Recently, a feeling of nostalgia came over me three times in a week. One was wonderful, the other two inspired this week's column.

I am starting with the one that put a smile on my face.

One night, I came home from dinner and it was early enough that the ice-cream man was still there.

Ice-cream man. Now that is another blast from the past.

When I heard the familiar bell getting out of the car, I headed straight towards the cart and got a slab of sweet corn ice-cream sandwiched between wafers. I would have preferred bread but he had run out.

Still, I enjoyed it so thoroughly that I looked out the window to see if he was still there and was crestfallen to find he had left.

A couple of days before that, I had been appalled when a friend polished off a slice of Victoria Sandwich which tasted dreadful to me.

I was trying out the cakes in a cafe and it had been a sentimental pick I remember from my salad days.

However, the cake was dry and the jam seemed like thickened cordial, terribly sweet.

Yet, there was my pal chowing down on it.

"I can't help myself. This reminds me of my childhood," he said. "It tastes like Arctic Roll."

"Do not," I said. "Get me started on Arctic Roll."

I had gotten all excited when a friend spotted the dessert, which made its debut in the 1950s, and said I had to get it and write about it for one of my columns.

But after trying it, I have to agree with British food writer Nigel Slater, who called it "frozen carpet". My friend did not like it either.

That beloved dessert from my childhood does not taste very good at all some three decades later.

The sponge is dry and furry when eaten straight from the freezer, and soggy if left to thaw for five minutes.

The raspberry layer is so thin as to be invisible.

In a deep funk after throwing good money after bad food, wasting time and calories, I thought I would see if I could do a better job.

Let's face it, it is easy to criticise, to dismiss someone else's work, but doing takes effort.

I decided to recreate the Victoria Sandwich, with jam and cream in between two layers of cake.

It is named after the British queen, who is said to have liked a slice of it at tea time.

The cake is similar to American pound cake, with its equal amounts of flour, sugar and butter.

Unlike a pound cake, however, it is baked in a round cake tin rather than a loaf-shaped one.

The butter needs to be properly softened or the cake layers will turn out dense. Leave it at room temperature for at least 45 minutes before starting on the recipe.

Instead of baking one cake and then trying to slice it into two equal layers, I baked two instead. After mixing up the batter, I weighed it and divided it between the two pans right down to the last gram.

The cake turned out great, I heaped double cream and raspberry preserves onto one layer, clapped the other on top and dug in.

The moist layers had a perky note from the lemon zest and a floral aroma from good vanilla.

Gippsland Dairy's Pure Double Cream, available at Market Place and some Cold Storage supermarkets, is thick enough to stand a spoon in, so it won't melt on you so quickly.

A hard-set jam is unappealing in this dessert, so I opted for soft set raspberry preserves from Bonne Maman. The Tiptree and Danish Selection brands are good alternatives.

Would my friend like this cake?

Or is nostalgia more powerful than the actual taste of something?

None of the childhood treats I loved taste quite the same these days.

But we can recreate some of these treats and perhaps make them better.

Sometimes, you can help yourself.

hsueh@sph.com.sg

www.facebook.com/tanhsuehyun

This story first appeared in The Straits Times on March 3, 2013

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